Updated: May 3
The term trauma illustrates the emotional distress and challenges posed after enduring a distressing and stressful event. Traumatic events or trauma cannot be put in a box or defined objectively because similar incidents or events may prove more traumatic for one person than the others. Trauma has a lasting emotional impact on a person’s life, sense of safety and self, and ability to adjust emotionally. Bearing feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, powerlessness, fear, and shame are common among people who suffer from trauma even long after the traumatic event.
Trauma and PTSD.
Childhood traumatic experiences such as abuse, abandonment, neglect, witnessing trauma in early life can often be overwhelmingly disturbing. These early life traumatic events are long-lasting for some people and keep disturbing adult life. Nevertheless, later life traumatic experiences can also be equally devastating, like being a victim of violence, an accident, living in a war zone or natural disaster, sudden loss, or witnessing any such experience. If the memories of the traumatic experience and event persist and remain unaddressed, it can worsen. In that case, it can cause PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which interrupts a person’s ability and the chance of balancing their emotional health and maintaining a normal life. Trauma and PTSD have an interrelationship; the distinction between these two is trauma is experienced or witnessed first, and later PTSD might set in. Trauma does not always lead to PTSD, but PTSD is always triggered by trauma.
How to know if you have unresolved trauma.
In several cases, individuals do not realize that they carry piles of unresolved trauma. All their symptoms are indicative of unaddressed and untreated trauma. Following are a few signs and symptoms that might help you recognize that you are battling unresolved trauma. Different people have different signs and symptoms. Although, loss of cognitive function is a relatively common and clear sign. Nightmares or flashbacks are about the traumatic event are frequently observed. Moreover, you may battle with disorientation, confusion, mood swings which become hurdles and make it difficult for you to perform daily tasks. The emotional challenges you may face with trauma include:
Guilt or shame
Feeling hopeless and powerless
Trauma can impact your behaviour, and you might develop behavioural symptoms. People with trauma tend to avoid people, places, and activities that might remind them of certain even or experiences. You might withdraw from family, friends, relationships, or your favourite activities. Additionally, obsessive behaviour patterns can also develop if you battle unresolved trauma. Signs of trauma are not limited to emotional and behavioural cues, but physical symptoms are also observed. Somatic and physical symptoms that are associated with trauma are:
Chest and neck pain
Heaviness in the body
Furthermore, various studies suggested that a range of medical conditions can be classified as somatic symptoms of trauma. Those conditions include cardiovascular, respiratory, musculoskeletal, and chronic pains.
Let’s look at different signs of trauma that often might be ignored.
Seven signs you might need help with unresolved trauma.
Struggling with the past: if you are suffering from unresolved and unaddressed trauma, you might struggle with the past and have difficulty addressing and visiting past events in general or through therapy. Any reminder of such an event can trigger increased anxiety, stress, negative thoughts, resentment, and suicidal thoughts. These PTSD symptoms are recurring for you whenever you visit the past.
Struggling with change: facing or adjusting to change is often difficult for most people. It can get scarier for people who already struggle with trauma. An individual with trauma and PTSD may have difficulty trusting people and places and may not experience life with open arms. If you find change difficult to process, feel uncertain about things, people, and places, do not want to get out of your comfort zone, you may be struggling with trauma.
Inability to communicate: after experiencing a traumatic event, you may feel incapable of articulating your thoughts and feelings. Some people with PTSD find themselves unable to have small talks. Opening up about your trauma can become intensely difficult for you. A sense of disconnection from your surrounding and the people around you are evident.
Feeling worthless and hopeless: the perpetual feeling of being powerless, hopeless, and stressed may indicate that you are suffering from unresolved trauma, especially if you do not have a history of depression. These underlying emotions of worthlessness and hopelessness should be taken into serious account and addressed.
Random things that trigger trauma: random things like a pattern on a shirt, a song, a food item that somewhat reminds you of a past event can trigger the reliving of that trauma. Such random things dissipate, sour your mood, overwhelm you, and trigger anxiety even more intensely. If the anxiety is not wearing off after encountering random reminders, the symptoms can be PTSD.
Trouble sleeping: as mentioned earlier, recurring nightmares and flashbacks about the traumatic experience or event are symptoms of unresolved trauma. These nightmares cause overwhelming stress and anxiety. Consequently, poor sleep further worsens the condition.
Struggle with therapy: trauma victims go through an enormous emotional psychological struggle. Sometimes their struggle continues during therapy. There are disappointments and emotional letdowns. You may find it hard to open up, address the event and be honest. The wrong expectations of promising results in a short period of treatment and being inept to see the progress you made are also symptoms of unresolved trauma.
How to heal trauma with somatic approaches.
The generally common approaches and methods to treat trauma and PTSD are exposure therapy, somatic experiencing, and EMDR. According to APA (American Psychological Association), exposure therapy involves having a patient confront the trauma in a safe environment. When patient is exposed to their trauma in a controlled environment, they might be able to curtail their fears. Apart from exposure therapy, somatic experience and EMDR are practiced in treating unresolved trauma. Trauma stimulates our primitive defences, which involve the somatic process.
Somatic is anything related to or affecting the body. Merely the name implies the difference between the somatic approach and method and other therapy methods. The somatic experience focuses on the bodily energy that’s reminiscent of the trauma and tries to refurbish it with the natural cycle of bodies. It follows a gradual and rather indirect approach to address or revisit trauma as compared to exposure therapy. Dr.Maggie Philips (2011) wrote a detailed research paper on the somatic approach to healing from trauma titled as Our Bodies, Our Selves: Treating the Somatic Expressions of Trauma with Ego-State Therapy. She stated the importance of sensory awareness of physiological and bodily sensations to heal from trauma.
What happens during somatic experiencing?
In somatic experiencing, every subsequent session is different from the previous in some way. A set of activities happens in a somatic experiencing session. All the exercises and steps are progressed according to the client’s comfort level. The focus is on getting comfortable with the physical surroundings and space developing a comfort and trust level with the therapist. In the next step, the therapist guides the client toward revisiting the time and circumstances around the traumatic event. The event is not addressed directly in the first step; instead, an indirect and gentle approach is applied to revisit the traumatic event and experience. It allows the body to release the trapped traumatic energy and help build resilience slowly.
This slow and gentle journey continues till the body can release the trauma. Somatic experiencing sessions are fluid and sometimes improvised and follow the flow of the client’s body.
The Role of Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, also known as EMDR, is a treatment used to treat and minimize the severity and effects of trauma. EMDR therapy helps with post-traumatic stress and symptoms such as feelings of guilt and shame, anxiety, and dissociative symptoms. Extensive research has been conducted on the effectiveness of EMDR therapy for trauma and PTSD. EMDR does not depend on talking about the traumatic event and experience, and it also does not rely on medication. Instead, EMDR therapy utilized the patient’s rhythmic and rapid eye movements. These eye movements enable the brain to move past the memories of the traumatic event and help it resume its natural healing process. The number of sessions for EMDR varies from client to client.
Trauma Counselling Based in Vancouver.
If you live in Vancouver and are looking for a counsellor, Avery Therapy Centre can support you in your counselling journey. We care about your mental well-being and offer low-cost and affordable counselling in Vancouver and online as well. Avery Therapy Centre understands that seeing a therapist can be overwhelming for many people. But to achieve self-understanding, self-compassion and compassion, and insight, you need to take this first step to reaching for counselling. Avery Therapy Centre offers registered and qualified counsellors to support you through challenges like anxiety and depression. Check out more details on EMDR Trauma Therapy.